A New Synthesist?
Since 1974, a group of designers at Yamaha's large manufacturing plant in Hammamatsu, Japan have been conducting research on the use of FM sound sources for a musical instrument. The reason for another change of direction from the accepted analogue synthesis using voltage control was the appearance of Dr. J. Chowning's article in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society Vol No. 7 September '83.
With the completion of the GS system, the synthesiser in general was still a relatively new instrument that was open to development. So another system called PAMS was designed which was to be the nucleus of the DX.
Martin Christie, UK Chief of Technical Services for Yamaha, had some fair comments to say about the new DX instruments. "Because Yamaha have the resources to produce their own LSI for digital processing of the FM sound source, they've succeeded in bringing the price down to a level which dramatically improves the cost/performance ratio. FM undoubtedly brings back the rich acoustic detail we've missed on many analogue instruments."
Certainly, when you consider how long we've managed to convince ourselves that a trumpet's a trumpet on a 2 oscillator, 1 filter, 1 envelope synth, we now have the opportunity to explore in much greater detail the more delicate art of synthesis — the complex harmonic structures created by FM that would be totally out of reach of analogue as well as many digital instruments, since the number of wavetables required would be very large.
What is likely to become more of a revelation to most musicians is the natural relationship that the FM system has with acoustic instruments. As the FM modulation depth is increased, the associated timbral changes are very close to what you would get with a real instrument as you play harder. And, whereas a purely digital system would require considerable memory to emulate, say timpani, FM just requires the right algorithm to do the synthesis, using the minimum of hardware in the process.
We shall now have to wait and see whether extensive use of the DX will prove that FM synthesis can be more accessible than existing methods and whether the younger player will grasp the concepts easily. If micros are anything to go by, then it may create a new generation of synthesists.